Category Music

Brilliant Songs #14: Mickey Guyton’s “Black Like Me”

Back in 1951, the publication of John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me” landed like a bomb on American culture. Griffin was a white man who had spent months working with his dermatologist to turn his skin black before setting out on a bold odyssey from his New Orleans home through the deep South. His intention was to experience first-hand what it would feel like to be a black person in Jim Crow America. The result was a stark, shattering testimony to the virulent racism still prevailing in American life nearly a century after the Emancipation Proclamation. The book’s power resonates to this day.

So much so that country singer Mickey Guyton, one of the few African Americans navigating the sometimes treacherous shoals of her genre with its predominantly white artists and audiences, had it very much in mind when releasing her song of the same title just weeks ago...

Read More

Eighth Annual Songs of Summer

“Every day is a good day,” a currently popular refrain among old friends who are also old goes, “when I’m still upright.” All the better, of course, when we are upright with some music close at hand and ear.

Now, halfway through the eighth year of this blog’s existence, I am pleased to observe that it, along with its creator, remain more upright than not, a happy fact for which I will not fail to publicly thank the gods, lest they smote me before I’ve had a chance to scout out the season’s hot new mojito recipes.

And it being summer, it is my not-all-that-solemn duty to honor the season in the traditional manner: by trotting out three summer-themed songs that I trust will put grins on your face (the first song below), maybe teach you an easy loping dance step or two for whenever music venues open again in this corona’d world (second song), and then, perhaps coax a tear out of your eye with the sweet pathos...

Read More

Pink Floyd and Some Heideggerian Musings on “Time”

The photo off to the side here shows my ancient cat’s pill dispenser. Two pills of different dosage values go down his gullet in the morn (note the “a.m.” slot), two at night (“p.m.”), to keep his wonky thyroid properly modulated. I take a couple of minutes to fill this dispenser every Sunday night, both to save myself the trouble of fishing individual pills out of their respective bottles twice daily, and also as a backup for my wonky memory (for which no modulation is available) as the day proceeds and I ask myself, “Did I give Rascal his pills this morn?”

What strikes me most about this weekly ritual is the increasing feeling, week to week, that I JUST DID THIS LIKE ABOUT…16 HOURS AGO!

And therein lies the problem of time, and memory, and the future, and life and meaning and death and the music and the philosophy that does its level best to make sense of it all and keep us from th...

Read More

Mainline to the Heart: A John Prine Homage

I’d been reflecting lately with friends that as bad as the coronavirus is, one glimmer of light is that I had not yet learned of anyone in my personal orbit coming down with the disease, and more widely still, no one in all of my own friends’ and acquaintances’ orbits had either, at least to my knowledge.

But then the news that John Prine had come down with the virus and was in ICU. And now he has died.

I knew John Prine.

Well, not personally—but actually, I did! 

That’s what happens with great artists whom one pays attention to over years. They crawl in through your skin, mainline themselves right to your heart like a powerful drug, move in like an Artist-in-Residence, bestowing their gifts in an endless stream through your life.

***

***

John Prine’s songwriting has always combined humor and pathos, mischief and solemnity, devil-may-care and tragedy in a way that not only few other artists do, b...

Read More

Brilliant Songs #13: Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia”

The best music always crawls right under your skin, raising a few goosebumps along the way as it wends its way in short order to your heart. And so it was the first time I came across Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia,” on an LP I picked up used in a dusty music store in Santa Monica, California just about a half-century ago.

I’d taken a music appreciation class in college, inspired partly by my mother, who grew up around classical music in her native Hungary and had exposed me to it along with Nat King Cole and a few other stalwarts of the era. So I had taken to scouring music stores to score used albums that looked intriguing enough to justify the fifty cents or dollar they would set me back.

I remember getting the Sibelius back home to play on my $99 record player (with detachable wired speakers!), and being absolutely floored by its beauty, the lush evocative melodies taking me through heights and...

Read More